Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have set 2013 fishing seasons for the lower Columbia River, anticipating a smaller return of spring chinook salmon and reflecting ongoing concerns about the river’s white sturgeon population.
Most of the new fishing rules adopted Jan. 30 take effect March 1, when fishing for spring chinook and sturgeon starts to heat up on the lower Columbia. Until then, both fisheries are open on various sections of the river under rules approved last year.
After three years of strong returns, managers set harvest guidelines for this year’s spring chinook season on a projected run of 141,400 upriver fish, about 25 percent below the 10-year average. Approximately 203,000 fish destined for areas above Bonneville Dam returned to the Columbia last year.
The initial catch guideline for the recreational spring chinook fishery will allow anglers fishing below the dam to catch up to 5,000 hatchery-reared upriver chinook before the run forecast is updated in May.
The spring chinook fishery is scheduled to run through April 5, but could be extended if enough fish are still available under the harvest guideline, said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Salmon returns are highly variable, and we’ll have a better idea what the season holds once the bulk of the run starts moving upriver,” Roler said in a news release.
As in years past, anglers may retain hatchery-reared spring chinook marked with a clipped adipose fin. Any unmarked wild spring chinook – some of which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act – must be released unharmed.
To facilitate the release of wild fish, anglers fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout are now required to use barbless hooks on the mainstem Columbia River downstream of the Washington-Oregon state line.
Fishery managers also established new rules for the white sturgeon fishery that will reduce harvest rates for the fourth straight year. With ongoing concerns about sturgeon abundance in the lower river, the states agreed to reduce the harvest rate an additional 15 percent.
But that reduction will largely be offset by a slight increase in the legal-size sturgeon population – the first indication of improvement in five years. As a result, the harvest guideline for the recreational sturgeon fishery below Bonneville Dam will remain virtually unchanged at 7,790 fish.
Brad James, a Washington fish biologist, recommends anglers look at the new fishing rules, because fishing periods in some areas will change this year. The new regulations for white sturgeon and spring chinook salmon are posted online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations. They also will be in the 2013-14 Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, available in May.
2013 SPRING CHINOOK SEASONS
Spring chinook fishing is currently open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge. Under the new rules, the sport fishery will expand upriver to Beacon Rock from March 1-April 5. During that period, the sport fishery will close on two Tuesdays – March 26 and April 2 – to accommodate possible commercial fisheries.
Starting March 1, the bank anglers’ fishing area will be extended from Beacon Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam.
Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16-May 5 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington-Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time.
Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one adipose-clipped hatchery adult spring chinook as part of their daily catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked adult spring chinook per day effective March 16.
2013 WHITE STURGEON SEASONS
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the portion of the catch available to recreational fisheries will be allocated as follows: 4,040 fish in the estuary, 2,020 above the Wauna powerlines and 1,730 in the Willamette River.
To keep this year’s catch within the new harvest guideline, the sturgeon fishery will end five days earlier than last year in the estuary fishery below the Wauna power lines.
The retention fishery in the area from the Wauna power lines upriver to Bonneville Dam is typically split into a winter-through-mid-summer period and a fall period. Last year, the fall fishery was canceled, because high catch rates from May-July took most of the fish available for harvest in that area. This year, managers agreed to shorten the winter-summer fishery by 18 days to reserve about half the catch for the fall fishery.
Fishing seasons approved for 2013 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:
Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1-April 30 and from May 11-June 30. From Jan. 1-April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38-54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 11 through the end of the season they must measure 41-54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed Thursdays-Saturdays from Jan. 1-June 15 and from Oct. 19-Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38-54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. Sturgeon fishing will be closed May 1-Aug. 31 in the sanctuary area from Bonneville Dam downstream nine miles to a line crossing the Columbia River from navigation marker 82 on the Oregon shore, westerly to the boundary marker on the Washington shore upstream of Fir Point.
Pools above Bonneville Dam: The harvest guideline for the Bonneville Pool has gone from 2,000 fish to 1,100 because monitoring data indicate that the sturgeon population did not increase over the past three years as expected. Sturgeon retention is allowed through today, with additional days possible in June. Retention fisheries in the two reservoirs between The Dalles and McNary dams are scheduled to proceed until their respective 300 fish and 500 fish guidelines are met.